An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Loreto Secondary School
Spawell Road, Wexford
Roll number: 63660A
Date of inspection: 16 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. The inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
The provision of four English class periods a week at junior cycle is adequate while the provision of five class periods a week at senior cycle is good. The provision of four class periods a week of English for Transition Year students is also good. Students are placed in mixed-ability classes in first year. They are then set into ability groupings in second year based on their monitored progress throughout first year and on a common end-of-year test with a common marking scheme for all first-year students. This is very good practice. Transition Year students are also placed in mixed-ability class groups. Students are set in fifth-year class groups based on teacher assessment of their work and ability in third year and on their Junior Certificate English examination results. Students are also consulted about class placement. It is management’s aim that as many students as possible take higher-level English in Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations and there is clear evidence that this aim is realised.
There is good whole-school support for English in the school. For example, management provides an extra English teacher in second and third year so that the four base class groups are divided into five class groups for English lessons. English classes are timetabled concurrently after first year, thus facilitating students to change levels although it was reported that there is little student movement between class groups except perhaps in the early part of fifth year.
Ten English teachers currently teach English in the school. All teachers are fully qualified to teach the subject. English teachers retain the same class groups between second and third year and between fifth and sixth year. The teaching of levels is allocated on a rotating basis among all English teachers. This is all commendable practice.
Management encourages all teachers to be members of subject associations and pays all such membership fees. The school also provides financial assistance to teachers undertaking professional development. English teachers are facilitated to attend relevant inservice. Most English teachers have their own designated classroom for teaching. There is also a designated storage room for shared English resources. Teachers have access to televisions, DVD players and sets of books for first and fourth-year students. Each subject department in the school submits an estimated subject budget to management each May and provision is then allocated for the subject department’s requirements. These are all examples of the good whole-school support for the subject in the school.
Students are offered a range of extra and co-curricular activities pertaining to English including: film and theatre trips, visiting writers, in-class debating, writing competitions, and participation in the M.S. Readathon. Teachers are commended for offering this range of activities to their students. In addition, the school awards a special prize each year to the most promising sixth-year English student.
There is a school library which students can access at lunchtime and to which teachers bring class groups from time to time. There is an annual launch to promote the use of the library and teachers constantly encourage students to use this facility. In addition, there are book boxes arranged for first, second and Transition Year class groups. Such strategies to promote reading among students are commended. Broadband is available to teachers in the library, the computer room and the staffroom. Teachers use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to access notes for students. Teachers should exploit any opportunities for using ICT to enhance teaching and learning, for example, by encouraging students to prepare PowerPoint presentations on aspects of their English course.
The school facilitates formal subject department meetings at least twice a year. In addition, a timetabled slot for subject planning is made available to all subject departments on a rotating basis once a week. A subject-liaison teacher is appointed democratically by the English department on an annual basis. The good practice of agreeing an agenda for and minutes of English subject department meetings is observed by the English teachers. A copy of these minutes is given to the principal who sometimes attends subject meetings. Agendas and minutes of department meetings indicate that worthwhile and sound discussions occur at meetings.
An English department subject plan is currently being developed as part of the school development planning process. The plan is currently handwritten and shows that good progress has been made to date in the planning process. The plan is evidence that teachers collaborate and co-operate as a subject department to ensure that students are well served for English in the school. For example, the teacher of the ordinary-level fifth-year group liaises with the teacher of the lowest-ability higher-level group about selection of the single text and the range of poetry to be studied, in case students change levels. The same practice occurs in third year. The English plan outlines work to be covered in each year group and for each level. It also shows that students are exposed to each aspect of the syllabus in each year which is good practice. There is a commendable policy that fifth-year classes will study the Shakespearean text before Christmas in preparation for the organised trip to see the staged play which takes place after Christmas. The third-year subject plan proposes the introduction of a second novel which is a commendable suggestion to be encouraged as it would add variety to the English course and avoid the possibility of third year becoming solely a revision year.
The Transition Year (TY) programme for English is written in accordance with Department of Education and Science guidelines. Teachers are commended for making efforts to avoid teaching texts which may be on the Leaving Certificate syllabus in TY although the skills necessary for success in senior cycle are taught. The programme is also commended for its breadth and balance.
Core textbooks are different for some first-year class groups at present. Consideration should be given to teachers agreeing on one core textbook for all first-year class groups. In addition, although it is good practice that all first-year students study a novel, there is a need for teachers to agree appropriate novels and poetry for first-year classes and indeed for each year of junior cycle. Teachers should also agree on the number of texts, including poems that should be taught in each year group of junior cycle. This is already the practice at senior cycle. Many teachers take care to choose texts at junior cycle that are suitably challenging for the student cohort. This good practice should be considered by all teachers. It is further recommended that in developing the English plan further, teachers agree key skills or learning outcomes that each year group should achieve. The plan could also include an agreed assessment and homework policy and a list of teaching methodologies. The English plan should be prepared electronically so that it is easily amended from year to year.
A particular feature of the English plan in Loreto Secondary School is the very strong emphasis on language development from first to sixth year. This is highly commended and is perhaps a strong contributory factor to the success of teaching and learning of English in the school.
The school has a comprehensive ‘Learning Support and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Policy’ which clearly outlines every aspect of provision and support for students with learning-support or special educational needs. Students with literacy support needs are identified from first-year assessment tests, by teacher referral, information from feeder primary schools and parents, and liaison with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). The school has one full-time learning-support teacher and a 0.98 allocation for resource teaching. The learning-support co-ordinator in the school is also an English teacher and thus attends English department meetings, which is useful for all teachers. In addition, staff are regularly informed at staff meetings about issues around learning support. Parents and Transition Year students sometimes participate in paired reading programmes. Students’ literacy improvements are assessed through retesting each May and by student goal sheets which are maintained by the students. The learning-support room contains a small library stocked with appropriate books. Students in receipt of literacy support are encouraged to read a book each week which is good practice. Overall these students are well supported by the school.
The purpose of all lessons was clear, appropriate work was covered and instructions were unambiguous. Teachers were well prepared for their lessons and had appropriate resources as necessary for their effective delivery.
Some lessons opened with a brief checking of homework from the previous lesson or with a brief revision of work covered previously so that there was evidence of continuity of learning. Links were created between texts as appropriate. Links were also created between texts and contemporary life which was good practice as it put students’ learning in context. There was an appropriate concentration on key moments when teaching the comparative texts.
Whole-class teaching was observed in most lessons visited. Lessons were most successful when students were asked as opposed to being told the meaning of, for example, lines of poetry or when they were asked to identify, instead of being shown, aspects of style. In this way they were involved in their own learning by being given tasks to do rather than only listening. Although teaching was always effective it is recommended that teachers always ensure that learning is student led as well as teacher led. On the whole there were opportunities for more independent learning in some lessons.
Students were generally involved in their lessons through question and answer sessions. There was evidence of some very good teacher-led questioning which challenged students to think more deeply about what they were studying and to justify their answers thus developing the skills of higher-order thinking. Best practice was seen when all students were included in the questioning so that teachers asked questions of specific students to ensure that all were on task as well as asking global questions from time to time. Effective questioning also led to good discussion.
Good practice was seen when the teacher became a facilitator of learning, when there was a clear division of tasks in lessons and when a range of methodologies was used. Some effective examples of group and pair work were observed. For instance, students were put in pairs to assemble the lines of a poem together. This was a short, specific task and was effective in ensuring that the students understood the poem. Another effective example was seen when students were put in groups to look for specific evidence in a poem. This work was consolidated by a final recording of students’ points on the board for all to learn. Other examples of effective learning techniques included the use of the acronym SMILERS to point out features of style, and the integration of language and literature. This was seen when students were asked to write a newspaper article based on a scene in ‘Macbeth’ and when Transition Year students were asked to write a diary entry from the point of view of a character in a studied extract. An integrated approach could also be used when teaching junior cycle students so that links are created between different genres rather than teaching sections of the course in isolation. For example, students should be asked to write a letter, diary entry or to do some other functional writing task from the point of view of a character in a text they are studying.
The blackboard and whiteboard were used effectively to record key points and students then recorded these points without prompting. One particularly effective technique observed was the attaching of an enlarged photocopy of a poem to the board so that examples of sound technique in this poem could be clearly identified by all. In addition, students were surrounded by a stimulating print-rich environment in most classrooms. For example, key quotes, lists of websites, commonly corrected errors and the discrete criteria for assessment were displayed.
As already noted, there was a strong focus on language development in all lessons. Teachers constantly emphasised correct spelling and grammar. Students have had a lot of practice in essay writing and are familiar with writing in different modes. Students were also well equipped with specific language appropriate for discussion of literature. Personal response to literature was also stressed, as is appropriate.
There was evidence of a very good relationship between students and teachers in all lessons. Teachers constantly affirmed their students. Students were always focused, organised and motivated and clearly felt comfortable to give opinions, discuss issues and engage with all tasks. They had a good knowledge of their texts, were well able to discuss their course and made many sophisticated points over the course of their lessons. There was clear evidence of learning in all classes. Students often created their own notes based on work they were doing in class and teachers also prepared or downloaded notes for the students as appropriate. There were no classroom management issues observed in any classes. Most teachers moved around the classrooms giving encouragement and individual attention. Overall, the commitment and the enthusiasm of English teachers to their students are commended.
English teachers analyse the Junior and Leaving Certificate results each year in English which is good practice. It is clear that management’s policy of encouraging as many students as possible to sit higher level is working as students achieve considerable success in their English examinations, which is also a tribute to the hard work of their teachers.
Examination classes sit ‘mock’ examinations which are externally corrected. Students also sit informal examinations in December. First and Transition Year students sit informal examinations in May while second and fifth-year students’ examinations in May are formal. Common papers are set for in-house examinations in first, second and fifth years for students sitting similar levels, and there is a common jointly agreed and moderated marking scheme agreed for these examinations. It is important that the practice of common tests be continued and, although first-year tests are now given in class time, it is suggested that English teachers and management look at a strategy to ensure that the tests are still common. Parents receive written reports twice a year and there is an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group.
The school has developed a well-laid out and straightforward homework policy which outlines among other things a guide to the amount of time to be spent on homework for each year group and the role of parents in ensuring completion of homework. Examination of students’ folders and copies demonstrated high expectations of work and standards from teachers. There was evidence that students are given regular homework and that they receive good written constructive feedback on areas where they may need to improve in their work. This is highly commended. In many classes students are expected to have different copies for different aspects of their course which leads to good organisation. A range of appropriate work has been covered. Examination students are well prepared. Essays and class-based tests are given at the end of specific units. Teachers use the language of assessment when marking senior cycle work which is appropriate.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
There is clear evidence that management’s aim of encouraging as many students as possible to take higher-level English in the state examinations is working successfully.
There is good whole-school support for English in the school.
Students are offered a range of extra and co-curricular activities pertaining to English.
There are good strategies for promoting reading among students.
English teachers work collaboratively as a subject department to serve the needs of the students and good progress has been made in subject planning.
There is a strong emphasis on language development from first to sixth year.
Students in receipt of extra literacy support are well served by the school.
Teachers are committed and professional in their approach to their students and their work.
There were opportunities for more independent learning in some lessons.
Lessons were well prepared and delivered and appropriate work was covered.
Students were surrounded by a print-rich environment.
There was a very good relationship between students and teachers in all lessons.
Students were focused, organised and motivated and there was clear evidence of learning in all lessons.
The common examinations set for certain year groups and levels are commended.
Regular homework is given which is well corrected with appropriate written feedback.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
In the development of the English plan, teachers should agree appropriate and challenging texts for each year of junior cycle, and consideration should be given to teachers agreeing one core textbook for all first-year class groups. Teachers should also decide on the number of texts, including poems that should be taught in each year of junior cycle and on the key skills or learning outcomes that each year group should achieve. The plan could also include an assessment and homework policy and a list of teaching methodologies.
The English plan should be prepared electronically so that it is easily amended from year to year and ICT should be used to enhance teaching and learning.
Teachers should ensure that learning is student led as well as teacher led.
An integrated approach to the teaching of language and literature could be used when teaching junior cycle.
English teachers and management should look at a strategy to ensure that the first-year end-of-term tests remain common.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of English at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management accepts the findings of this report. The members were gratified that the work of the teachers in the English Department was affirmed by the visiting inspector. The strengths and recommendations listed were carefully noted by all. Surprise was expressed that a period of six months elapsed between the date if inspection and the publication of the report thus reducing its impact.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The English plan has been prepared electronically
ICT is used in researching poets’/writers’ backgrounds as noted by the inspector
A list of texts has been agreed for Junior Cycle but teachers do not wish to be constrained, and are of the opinion that flexibility must be allowed, particularly in the light of diverse cultures within the school
First year end-of-term examinations will remain common